Is it heartless to be happy when your loved ones are away?
Most parents bemoan their inability to unglue themselves from their smartphones. I am pretty sure my children will remember me stalking the house with my fist clenched around a canister of Clorox wipes. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the good old days, when the only person I had to clean up after was Yours Truly. So on the occasions when my husband is away, it is actually nice to have one less human to play maid to. In fact, some of my happiest moments in life are when my husband is away and my kids are asleep, and I am in my apartment by my own goddamn self with no one to mess anything up.
I have little tolerance for the things that take up space in my house that I don’t find worthy. In my view, this is basically anything that does not serve a purpose to, well, me. “Why do we need this thing again?” I’ll ask, pointing to my husband’s electric water pick, which (he reminds me) he uses every night. “Are you sure you want to keep this?” I’ll say, holding his high school yearbook over the recycling bin. I’m way too quick on the draw when it comes to throwing important things out – everyone’s things – and it gets me in trouble, especially come tax season. I have, however, been generous enough to allot my husband a small cubby in our shared closet, where he can keep whatever he pleases without the threat of losing it to the trash bin.
To be fair, my husband is in no way a slob. He cleans as he cooks dinner – as the best chefs do. With the exception of the “shoe garden” that grows by our door over the course of the week, and an occasional unopened amazon.com box – I have it pretty good. But that would be if I were a normal person.
I am not a normal person. I imagine most people can move on with their lives if some folded socks haven’t been put away after a day. Not me. Even if I’m dead tired, and it’s past midnight and I know I’ll be up at sunrise, I’ll put away all the laundry, risking waking my kids to get it done. The standard of clean to which I hold my home is “Listed Apartment On The Market Ready To Be Shown By Realtor”, at all times.
The standard of clean to which I hold my home is “Listed Apartment On The Market Ready To Be Shown By Realtor”, at all times.
Long, long before I had children, I had imagined I’d have the kind of home where creativity would thrive – where there would be art stations organized by medium, musical instruments, a mini dance studio and all manner of imaginative spaces to inspire young minds. I had a space like this in our finished suburban basement when I was a kid. I figured I’d find a way to recreate my childhood “basement haven” on a small scale for my own children, when I eventually had them.
But after seeing how much effort it takes to clean up after three humans (plus one dog), I realized that the dream of a creative oasis would have to go live in some other home, presided over by some other, more loving, more patient mother. I needed my apartment to be largely under my jurisdiction. These other people living with me? They would just have to fit into the corners and cubbies I’d assigned to them.
When people enter our apartment, they often tell me it doesn’t look like children live there – which is either the highest compliment or a deep dig at my mothering habits. Children’s artwork is strictly limited to one corner of the house – behind the front door – so you can’t see it when you first enter our place. I’ve written extensive lists to our babysitters so that they understand which bins are for what toys, and how – under no circumstances, should anything belonging to a child be left in the living room by the end of the day.
When I’m home, “playing” with the kids, I perch on the floor, darting my eyes around the room, bird-like, for signs of toys that could be put away. “You’re done with these paints, right?” I’ll say, when my three-year-old has merely left to grab himself a juice box. It’s a skill I believe I picked up from my own mother, who, halfway through any meal, would spray Windex around the perimeter of our plates to signal that she was ready to get the kitchen back in order.
When people enter our apartment, they often tell me it doesn’t look like children live there – which is either the highest compliment or a deep dig at my mothering habits.
My husband has this thing he does when he comes home from work, where he pulls out one of the chairs from the table so he can take off his work shoes. Which I guess is fine, except, for some unexplained reason he does not push the chair back in. Ever. On nights when my husband is away, I like to admire my dining room chairs because that’s the only time when the chairs stay where I’ve put them, like good little soldiers.
The downsides to him being gone: There’s only one of us to handle our older son’s night terrors, and what will I do when he calls for “Dad” but Dad isn’t there? Who’s going to go into the spooky, dark living room in the middle of the night when the dog starts barking for a new toy to chew on? Or worse – who will comfort me when the dog does that creepy dog thing and barks at the corner of my room by my night table and nothing is there? Then there’s the simple fact that I find it hard to fall asleep without the weight of my husband’s body near mine. I know I’m imagining it, but sleeping without him on the other side of the bed feels like being on a seesaw alone.
Does it sound heartless to be happy when your other half is gone? Probably, but that’s only if you don’t know the full story. My husband is grateful that at least I have one reason to be happy when he is gone and that I’m not resenting him the whole time I’m left to fend on my own with our kids. The kids learned early on not to act like frat boys and trash the house, and they also know not to come between Mom and her broom when I get a certain look in my eye. And no, they’ll never have that imagination-capturing art station or dress up nook. But they’ll always be able to find their toys, organized by type (and disinfected regularly), and floors they can eat off of. And whenever they smell Clorox, they’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside, and think of me.
Originally published at heymama.co on March 21, 2018.
Featured image: Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #35. 1979. Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York. ©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York